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The Scourge of Chronic Disease

Health Minister Hon. Mark Scotland

Health Minister the Hon. Mark Scotland recently affirmed his ministry's support in battling chronic disease in the Cayman Islands.

Meeting with representatives from the Pan American Health Organisation, he specifically committed to pursuing the goals of the CARICOM Port of Spain Declaration, a 14-point document outlining collective action against chronic non-communicable diseases.

The Minister also discussed public health and policy initiatives that could improve individual and community health by preventing and reducing the impact of chronic disease.

Public health officials estimate that some six percent of Cayman's population has diabetes, while approximately twelve percent lives with high blood pressure.

Other statistics indicate that about one-third of deaths in Cayman result from cancers, another third are due to cardiovascular diseases, while the remaining third are the outcome of injuries, diabetes and all other causes.

"Ailments such as hypertension, heart disease and stroke, cancer, chronic respiratory diseases and diabetes are the leading causes of premature death in our region. A staggering two out of three deaths of persons younger than 70 years result from a chronic disease," the Minister said.

"Simply put, the largest epidemic we are facing is the one of chronic non-communicable diseases. And unlike flu and other viruses, there are no vaccines for these. Instead, prevention lies in education, for the only way to protect ourselves from their impact is to choose to live healthily," he explained.

He noted that while much remains to be done to accomplish the Port of Spain Declaration's objectives, Cayman has already taken significant steps including the passage of tobacco legislation and the development of several public health education programmes that promote healthy living.

To strengthen the country's response, the Minister also discussed a national health survey for the Cayman Islands. He said that such a study will allow public health officials to properly assess the local prevalence and effect of chronic diseases. This in turn will enable health authorities to develop appropriate intervention programmes.

The survey is planned for 2011 and PAHO has agreed to provide technical cooperation for the project.

Cayman's PAHO representative Dr. Ernest Pate also underscored the importance of having relevant data to create appropriate and successful public health plans for preventing and reducing chronic diseases.

"It is predicted that by 2020 - a mere decade from now - non-communicable diseases will account for sixty percent of the global burden of disease. If we fail to do something now to reverse the trend, national health systems will be severely stressed and there will be significant negative economic and social consequences," he said.

For further information contact: Cornelia Oliver